bLaMe tRaPs

Blame traps come in different forms. Some of them are directed outward, as
when we blame others for our own failings; others are directed inward, when instead
of simply taking responsibility, we apply extension-of-blame thinking to ourselves
or give flimsy excuses for our blameworthy actions. Some reflect a fear of
blame. Others lead to paralysis and inaction. All involve a defensive deflection from
personal accountability and responsibility for one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions.

The Perfectionist Trap. Some people impose inflexible expectations,
rules, roles, and requirements onto themselves or others. And when people invariably
veer from these tight standards, the perfectionist is primed to blame.
In this world, even the slightest mistake can rise to a calamity and the blame
game follows. If you fall into this trap, start your exit by honestly evaluating
whether your expectations are expectancies, opinions, or hypotheses. Chances
are you’ll find that you are expressing an opinion, and an opinion is not the
same as a fact.

The Political Trap. People who try to take the credit for all that is good and
blame others for whatever goes wrong have fallen into the political blame trap. The
goal of politicians is to look good. When events go sour, they will make others look
bad to divert attention from themselves. If you’re following this gambit, you’ll find
that you prioritize your image over your self-development. To stay out of the political
blame trap, accept responsibility for your mistakes and use them as steppingstones
to self-improvement.

The Ego Trap. Some people fall into the ego blame trap. If you’re in this
group, you probably follow Stephen Potter’s one-upmanship gambit. By extending
blame to others for their foibles and faults, you artificially boost your ego. However,
this boost yields a false sense of security. Problems others exhibit do nothing
to make your inner life blissful. To stay out of this trap, look for ways to praise others
appropriately and to avoid degrading them.

The Projection Trap. When you feel on top of the world, you may look
around and see everybody as happy human beings. Envisioning others as thinking
and feeling the same way that you do is a normal human tendency. A quick evaluation,
however, can change this perspective. The same mechanism is at play when you fall into the projection blame trap. Here you attribute your undesirable motives
to others. Acon artist decides to cheat someone out of her money. Without a basis in
fact, the con artist thinks that the person would do the same if given the chance.
Now the victim is to blame for having similar motivations. This blame projection is
a crutch to justify the unacceptable and to avoid blame. People stay out of this trap
by recognizing and owning their own feelings and motivations.

The Rationalization Trap. Rationalization trap people give crediblesounding
but false reasons to excuse their behavior and to avoid blame: “I wasn’t
taught that”; “I thought that was permissible”; “It wouldn’t have happened if the
weather hadn’t changed.” This intellectual defense gives the individual a way to
save face. However, time spent in blame-avoidance rationalizations often is better
used to correct the reasons for the rationalizations. To stay out of the rationalization
trap, act to fulfill responsibilities without excusing yourself. For example, if
you forget to make a phone call, instead of blaming a colleague for distracting you,
simply say “I forgot.”

The Denial Trap. Denial takes many forms. A Pollyanna-ish denial is to
perceive the world in glowing terms. Another is to psychologically block painful realities,
thoughts, or feelings. The more common denial, however, is to consciously
disavow blameworthy actions. This form of denial is the first line of defense against
blame among people in a blame culture. If you fall into the denial trap, when things
go wrong you’ll find yourself falsely claiming “I didn’t do it”; “It’s not my fault.”
This quick and easy escape technique diminishes opportunities for positive change.
To stay out of this trap, put your efforts into addressing and solving problems rather
than wasting time and energy on futile denials.

The Whiney Trap. Whiney blame-trap people appear to feel overwhelmed,
outgunned, and helpless to convincingly assert their preferences and interests. They
whine and complain as a way of blaming. This is not a weak ploy but a highly manipulative
blaming style. The trap has a big downside. The person frequently feels
dependent and helpless. To stay out of the whiney blame trap, follow St. Thomas
Aquinas’s advice: “Let me change what I can, accept what I can’t, and know the difference
between the two.”

The Depression Trap. When you’re in the depression blame trap, you
falsely define yourself as helpless yet blame yourself for matters that, if you were
truly helpless, you could not be expected to control. Scarcely aware of this selfblame–
powerless paradox, people in this trap live life without hope. To stay out of
the trap, recognize that you can practically always find an option and that the smallest
step to execute that option is a signal of your ability to change.

The Terrible-Person Trap. The terrible-person blame trap is among the
most painful variety. You blame yourself and declare yourself a terrible person for
being who you are. This blame belief boxes you into a self-defeating outlook. If you
are a “terrible person,” how can you correct who you are? Those who stay out of
this trap convince themselves to make appropriate changes, including changing beliefs
that lead to this type of faulty self-concept.

The Fear-of-Blame Trap. The fear-of-blame trap places an artificial limit
on ability. Many in this group refuse to take prudent risks unless they have a guarantee of success. Sadly, the person with an artistic vision pumps gas because he
fears the words of critics. A fear-driven clerk with a cost-saving idea winces at the
thought of her employer’s scoffing at her idea. To stay out of this trap look for ways
to accept rather than reject yourself.

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